Voyage Sans Frontieres 2
Back in 1998 we cruised the Marne au Rhin in France from Toul to Strasbourg, the Houilleres de la Sarre and the Saar over the border into Germany as far as Saarbrucken and then retraced our steps before going down the Moselle and over the border yet again into Luxembourg and Germany. We were unable at the time to complete the ring formed by the waterways mentioned as the final large lock on the Saar north of Saarbrucken was still under construction. This was our first taste of cruising without frontiers and although there was no border controls, there was still the problem of several different currencies. We returned last summer to yet again cruise without frontiers, complete the ring and add a little extra as well.
We crossed the Channel using the Dover – Dunkerque route before driving down through Belgium and Luxembourg. This allowed us to avoid French motorway tolls and to fill up with very cheap diesel and petrol in Luxembourg. We launched into the Marne au Rhin at Nancy on a very hot afternoon before spending the rest of the day and evening exploring the town, particularly the large square, Place de Stanislas.
(Click on any image to enlarge)
We then set off east towards Strasbourg having to negotiate both the 14m deep lock at Rechicourt and the fantastic inclined plane at Arzviller.
The descent continues towards Strasbourg through the picturesque village of Lutzelbourg, down the heavily wooded Zorn valley to Saverne and it’s chateau and the odd field filled with Storks as you cross the Plane de Alsace. The buildings of the European Parliament make a fitting backdrop as you approach Strasbourg through the old port area where the large Rhine cruise ships now berth.
Strasbourg is a very popular tourist destination and has lots to offer. We stayed for 3 very busy days. Highlights included taking a boat trip around the city, strolling through Petite France with it’s many timber framed buildings, watching the free son et luminaire telling the story of the EU using a fantastic variety of fountains, music, projected images and fireworks and finally the constantly changing illumination of the cathedral, again set to music.
We put the kids on a flight home before taking Bobbles through Vauban’s defensive barrage and the lock in Petite France before heading west. This time calling at the pretty Alsacian village of Waltenheim. Then back up the Zorn valley, Lutzelbourg and the inclined plane.
Still following our original route we then turned north down the Houilleres de la Sarre which crosses a wooded area with many lakes and then the Saar over the border in to Germany. When we were last moored in Saarbrucken we had been unwilling to leave the boat unattended. There are now proper moorings with water and electricity, hire boats and several visiting privately owned boats, what a contrast.
Beyond Saarbrucken the locks are now all to European class 5b standard with chambers 190m x 12m. The Saar is a busy commercial waterway carrying coal, steel scrap and other raw materials to the heavy industry for which the Saar region is famous. Whilst the large boats are not a problem, the mile upon mile of steel works that line the upper section of the Saar are less than attractive, not helped by their distinctive smell or the motorway on the other bank. We cleared this section before stopping overnight at the sportboothafen at Merzig, complete with a rather pompous hafenmeister with his own permanently reserved seat in the bar. This was our first ever night afloat in Germany and we had an excellent meal in the accompanying restaurant.
The scenery beyond Merzig is beautiful, the river meanders between high wooded cliffs for the majority of the next 30 miles as it makes its way to join the Mosel at Konz. We celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary as we cruised alone down this wonderful section.
After a stop for lunch we passed through the sportsbootschleuse (a smaller lock for pleasure boats, still 40m x 6.75m) at Mettlach as “Caron” was descending in the large lock alongside. We arrived at the bottom of the 11m deep lock before Caron but thought it wise to wait for the 135m x 11.5m bulk carrier with a displacement of 4200 tonnes to leave before venturing out.
The attractive scenery continued with several viewing points perched high above. The large commercial boats were also quite frequent and we shared the large chamber with Christian as we descended the 14.5m deep lock at Serrig. Our bigger neighbour proved to be no problem but we did get a submerged log wedged between the boat and the engine leg as we came out behind her.
It was occasionally wise to ignore the rule of the road and not insist on taking the right hand side when passing other craft. This was particularly true as the Festine Vere was already passing an anchored yacht and not all it’s crew were watching what they were doing. I can’t help wondering what they would have done if the 2 boys had fallen off.
Our next port of call was at Saarburg which had been recommended to us. It is a pretty little town with a ruined castle and a lovely pedestrianised centre consisting of many restaurants with outside tables gathered around the flower bedecked mill stream. The only disadvantage is that the sportboothafen is about a mile beyond the town but it is pleasant and very popular riverside walk.
From Saarburg it is only 6 miles and one lock, which we again descended alongside Caron, to the junction with the Mosel where we turned left or upstream towards the French border. Having read Hugh McKnight’s “Slow Boat Through Germany”, we were expecting a visit from the German water police at some point. Within an hour of turning on to the Mosel we saw them coming up behind us at speed. We were quite pleased to see them shoot past with nothing more than a cheery wave before turning and going back. We got the impression that they were busy giving their guests sat out the back a joyride. We had a far less pleasant experience when a lock full of dutch barges and large cruisers came tearing towards us obviously competing with each other to get in front leaving little room for us to pass between them and the bank. The nearest to us went on to the plane shortly after we passed in order to get to the front.
The river becomes the border between Germany and Luxembourg as you cruise upstream and the 2 locks we passed through on the Mosel or Moselle were both on the Luxembourg bank. At the first we had to use the sportbootschleuse which was surprisingly user operated. It also had a very interesting canoe shoot alongside. The famous Mosel vineyards line both banks
The final 5 miles to the marina at Schwebsingen takes you past the resort town of Remich. As Luxenbourg has no coastline, Remich and it’s riverfront is where the population come to play on the water. There is no speed limit on this section of the river and we spent a very uncomfortable hour being repeatedly buffeted by the wash from all manner of trip boats, speedboats, ski boats and jet skis. We stayed 2 nights, taking the opportunity to travel by bus and train to Nancy to retrieve the car and trailer and also to drive to Trier to view the extensive Roman remains, before slipping out and towing the boat across to Charleville – Meziers on the Meuse back in France. Before leaving we spent an interesting evening in the marina bar with a couple of English gentlemen, one of whom had previously been approached about fitting out the new Beavers by Bob Howell. Its a small world!
From Charleville – Meziers we cruised north down the Meuse and through the French and later the Belgian Ardennes retracing our steps from 2003. Montherme is an attractive little town with walks up to the numerous viewing points from where it is possible to see the Meuse meandering between the heavily wooded hills.
The hills rose up and the valley narrowed as we cruised beneath the tree covered rocks known locally as the “Dames de Meuse”, a beautiful stretch of river and lock channel that extends to Revin. This is our favourite stretch of the river and on our return we did this stretch a further 3 times before having to head for home.
Revin has a beautiful port de plaisance, usually full of Dutch cruisers slowly making their way back home after spending the summer cruising in France. Further on Fumay, like several of the other local towns, is an old mining town. lt is largely built of local stone now bedecked in geraniums and is again a popular mooring with the Dutch. Givet is the last French town before crossing over the border in to Belgium and it has a large hilltop castle designed by Vauban.
The border is in fact only marked by a sign on the nearby road with the only formality at the first Belgian lock being a request for our destination and the issuing of a piece of paper. Sadly ours blew overboard before it had chance to be useful. We had cruised as far as Dinant before and so we pressed on, this time heading for Namur which we reached just in time to claim one of the last 2 moorings in the port de plaisance. This has a good view up to the hilltop citadel opposite, but the town itself was a little disappointing. We did enjoy the slightly spooky experience of wandering around the citadel in the dark and it did provide the opportunity for several attractive photos.
We started early next morning retracing our steps, this time stopping at Dinant, birth place of Adolphe de Saxe. On the way we saw evidence of the parallel evolution of ideas in the form of a boat bearing a striking likeness to the original Water Rat complete with flexible sides and pontoon hull.
Our run upstream also provided us with some very atmospheric panoramas as the overnight mist slowly lifted to be replaced by bright sunshine. We also went up, down and up again on our favourite stretch, finding time to swim, eat out and barbeque before finally arriving back in Charleville – Meziers and slipping out..
We paid a flying visit to Ypres during the tow home to witness the moving “last post” ceremony held daily at the Menin Gate This memorial commemorates the 50000 men with no known graves who died defending the Ypres salient during the first world war. After an early morning ferry, we caught up with some sleep parked up on the sea front in Dover and even had time for a swim before completing our tow home.
Over a period of 4 weeks we cruised in and out of 4 countries in total with little or no formality. The currency problems encountered on our previous visit no longer exist and although our German still leaves an awful lot to be desired, we have learnt a little. All in all a wonderful holiday.